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Bolsonaro ousts Petrobras boss after fuel price hikes

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President Jair Bolsonaro has long criticised the pricing policy of Petrobras, which has set severe increases in line with the international price of crude oil. AFP

Bolsonaro ousts Petrobras boss after fuel price hikes

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro decided on Monday to replace the president of state-owned oil giant Petrobras, Joaquim Silva e Luna, amid strong pressure due to recurrent increases in fuel prices.

The information, leaked by the Brazilian press, was confirmed in the evening by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which proposed economist Adriano Pires, a specialist in the oil and gas field, as the new candidate for the job.

The appointment must be approved by the Petrobras board of directors next April 13, the ministry said.

Bolsonaro had appointed Silva e Luna, an Army reserve general, in February last year, also dissatisfied at that time with the constant price increases applied by the company.

The ultra-right-wing president has long criticised the pricing policy of Petrobras, which has set severe increases in line with the international price of crude oil.

But the increases have fueled inflation, hitting Bolsonaro’s popularity hard ahead of his reelection bid in October.

In early March, Petrobras upped the price of gas by 18.8 per cent and diesel by 24.9 per cent, citing the “worldwide increase in the price of oil and its derivatives as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine.”

Petrobras shares fell 2.63 per cent at the close of trading on the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange on Monday.

Economist Alex Agostini, from the Austin Rating consulting firm, said the changes in company management are “a sign that something is wrong.”

“But for the market it is not going to change much. If it is confirmed that the new president will be Adriano Pires, a specialist in the oil and gas area, this will bring stability” because he will hardly intervene in Petrobras’ pricing policy, Agostini explained to AFP.

Pires had previously worked as an adviser to the general director of the National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels. He is also the founder and director of the Brazilian Center for Infrastructure (CBIE), a consulting firm specializing in energy.

He has also expressed support for Petrobras’s pricing policy.

In an interview with CNN Brazil after the early March increase, Pires said that “there was no way for Petrobras not to raise prices, because the price gap between the internal and external markets was too big.”

“That gap was starting to cause a risk of shortages in Brazil,” he said. “The country imports 30 per cent of what is consumed of oil derivatives. If the gap is too big, nobody imports and stocks were already running out.”

Petrobras closed 2021 with a record profit of 106.67 billion reais ($19.88 billion).

According to the latest survey by the Datafolha consulting firm, conducted in March, 75 per cent of Brazilians believe that the government has “a lot” or “some” responsibility for the surging inflation.

The same survey indicates Bolsonaro would lose in an eventual second round against leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

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